Whether he is performing Wagner in Bayreuth or Bruckner with the world’s major orchestras, Christian Thielemann’s interpretations of late German Romanticism always receive high praise from the critics. All the more interesting then is this concert which sheds light on this same period from a Russian perspective: Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s stirring Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique.
Tchaikovsky himself declared the symphony to be the “keystone of his whole creative works”; while composing it, he was repeatedly reduced to tears. The idea of the Pathétique as Tchaikovsky’s highly emotional legacy is still given credence by the fact that he died nine days after the premiere. Contemporaries report, however, that the composer worked on the piece no differently than on any other, and turned immediately after its completion to other projects. And in fact, it probably needs a minimum of serenity in order to create such a soulful, but also ingeniously constructed work in which there is, for example, a waltz in the complicated 5/4 time.
The way in which music developed after Tchaikovsky’s death can be seen in Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes, which were completed shortly afterwards. Although they have the subtitle “symphonic triptych”, they leave the traditional symphony far behind, and in their shimmering Impressionistic pictures, they point more in the direction of the new genre of the tone poem. With his intensive tonal colours, Debussy inspired countless subsequent French composers, including Olivier Messiaen. His song cycle Poèmes pour Mi, dedicated to Messiaen’s first wife, is a brilliant profession of faith and of the sacrament of marriage – and as such stands in striking contrast to the resignation and rebelliousness of the Pathétique.